DHR Health partnership to bring clinical trials to Starr County
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Starr County’s partnership with DHR Health has only strengthened under the pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic and one of their latest collaborations seeks to bring clinical trials to the county hospital.

Starr County Judge Eloy Vera, Sheriff Rene “Orta” Fuentes, Ameida Salinas-Tax Assessor/Collector, Cynthia Garcia Fuentes-Starr County, Ashley Custer -City of Rio Grande City and Rolando Barrera-RGCCISD met with Gilda G. Romero and Mario Lizcano from DHR to plan the promotion of the upcoming Convalescent Plasma Donation Drive which will be held on Saturday at Starr County Memorial Hospital.

(Courtesy Photo)

Residents of Starr County could soon have the opportunity to participate in COVID-19 vaccine trials, according to Dr. Antonio Falcon, the county’s recently appointed health authority.

During a news conference Tuesday, Falcon said that following a discussion with officials at DHR Health on Monday, researchers conducting the trial were looking to recruit about 500 residents of Starr and Hidalgo counties in an effort to recruit more people of Latino descent.

“As all of you have read, the immunizations look very, very promising,” Falcon said during the news conference Tuesday. “One of the things that pharmaceutical companies did this year is, while they were doing the immunizations, they were also preparing the immunization so that when (U.S. Food and Drug Administration)gives approval, there’s going to be a lot of medicine, a lot of immunizations available for us.”

Dr. Sohail Rao, DHR Health’s Institute for Research and Development’s CEO and president, confirmed the efforts to bring clinical trials to Starr County.

“DHR Health research institute is working together with Starr County Memorial Hospital to bring innovative clinical trials in the area of cancer, liver diseases, infectious diseases, diabetes, obesity and many other specialties, disciplines to the citizens of Starr County,” Rao said.

But another, more immediate collaboration between the two health institutions focuses on collecting convalescent plasma for people already infected with COVID-19.

“We are working with the hospital in providing them with convalescent plasma for severe and life threatening COVID-19 patients and, as of today, we have actually done 47 convalescent plasma infusions in 47 patients,” Rao said.

On Saturday, Starr County Memorial will host a plasma donation drive from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in its lobby.

People over the age of 18, who have recovered from the coronavirus disease, displayed symptoms but have been symptom free for at least 28 days, are encouraged to donate their plasma.

“Patients that have recovered from COVID have the ability and antibodies to fight the infection for somebody else,” Falcon said. “It has worked remarkably well in some patients.”

He added that the plasma would not be sent outside the Rio Grande Valley but used to help patients locally.

Another treatment has also been made available at the hospital, Falcon said, with the approval of Aviptadil, an antiviral meant to treat respiratory failure in patients with COVID-19.

The FDA approved the drug on Monday through their Expanded Access Protocol, a pathway for investigational drugs to be used for immediately life-threatening conditions. DHR Health also announced on Tuesday that the drug will be available for their patients.

“It’s a newer medication that helps fight the viral infection in the lungs, specifically,” Falcon said. “It seems to do well as an antiviral.”

Otherwise, the situation at Starr County Memorial Hospital is reportedly improving.

Instead of the dire situation in which hospital officials found themselves just a month ago, struggling to transfer out patients that needed advanced level of care, Falcon said the hospital had more capacity now and transfers weren’t as necessary.

“The situation at the hospital is better,” he said. “There are more beds available; it’s very easy to transfer patients out, especially patients that needed intubation and a higher level of care.”

As of Monday, Falcon said, the hospital had 16 patients in the COVID-19 unit and 15 more requiring intensive care. He said no patients were on ventilators, though, one patient was ventilated and transferred out on Monday. Additionally, there were three patients on BiPAP machines.

“The overall situation in our community remains very serious, to say the least,” Falcon said. “However, there are glimpses of hope.”

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